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After the Wedding: Unpacking a family secret

2.5 out of 4 stars

Denmark, Sweden, U.K., Norway
Danish, Swedish, English, Hindi

After the Wedding **½

Directed by Suzanne Bier

Written by Anders Thomas Jensen

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and Suzanne Bier

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgard, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen and Christian Tafdrup

Classification: 14A

There is no honeymoon in After the Wedding, a Danish melodrama about family secrets, altruism and reconciling selflessness with self-interest. The whirling camera puts us in the middle of a struggling orphanage in India run by Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen). In a fast-paced opening sequence, the transplanted Dane discovers he must return to Copenhagen, after 20 years in self-imposed exile, to meet with Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), a wealthy businessman, and secure a possible $4-million donation that would save the orphanage.

After the Wedding, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film this year, marks the third collaboration between writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen and director Suzanne Bier. Like their previous work -- Open Hearts (2002), an accredited Dogme 95 film (i.e., it adheres to the rules of the Danish film movement), and Brothers (2004) -- it explores shifting family dynamics by contrasting the motivations of the two central male characters.

Jacob is the "stranger" that, with reluctance, steps into the privileged circle of Jorgen's happy family and becomes a catalyst to major, heart-wrenching change. After an oddly casual meeting about the possible donation, the hyper-jolly Jorgen cajoles Jacob into attending the weekend wedding of his daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen).

The ceremony is in progress when Jacob arrives. Sitting at the back of the church, he is spotted by Jorgen's wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Later, at the reception, they greet each other tentatively, their body language revealing they were once lovers. In the background, Jorgen watches Helene and Jacob interact with an intense but unworried expression that shows -- much too early in the film methinks --he is not only aware of their previous connection and but has deliberately orchestrated Jacob's return to Denmark. But for what purpose?

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Jacob realizes something weird is up when Anne delivers an impromptu wedding-dinner speech, toasting her father and explaining that two years previous, when she was 18, Jorgen revealed that he was not her biological father. Jacob silently does the math -- one of several powerful notes in Mikkelsen's dynamic yet quiet performance. He storms off, but returns to the vast family estate the next day and privately tells Jorgen and Helene they must tell Anna who he is. While Jorgen's ulterior motives are not fully revealed until the film's final stretch, we have a good idea what he's up to; he is deeply troubled, drinking heavily and manipulating events to force Jacob to reconnect with Helene. Jorgen even goes so far as to state in the donation agreement that Jacob must stay in Copenhagen to administer the orphanage fund with Anna. It's all too obvious Jorgen is preparing for his own end.

The scenes between Mikkelsen and Fischer Christensen, biological father and daughter becoming acquainted, are beautifully tentative. And the Dogme-esque cinematography captures the often highly emotional encounters between the players with rough but naturalistic grace. But at two hours, After the Wedding stretches out family flux too thinly and waits too long to reveal the final, devastating secret that we already know.

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